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When I was asked to teach Attic Greek to Catholic home-schoolers, my first thought
was to text a recent Classics grad from Edinburgh Uni to see if she would like the job. However, she had not done any Greek; her specialization began and ended with Latin. I cast about in my mind for someone else among my Edinburgh friends and acquaintances, but I could not think of anyone who had studied Ancient Greek within the past 25 years save my unworthy self.
As I passed Ancient Greek 101 and 102 only by the skin of my teeth, my conscience would have cut up rougher had I not sat down eight years later and worked through the bally stuff. That was the year I lived alone in a bachelor flat and spent my evenings reviewing Italian, French, Latin and Attic Greek. Eventually French and Greek fell by the wayside as I concentrated on Italian and Latin. My Italian was in super shape by 2000, and I actually used it at work—-but let us return to Attic Greek.
Although I have little “natural talent” for foreign languages, I know a lot about learning them, thanks to a steady reading diet of popular works on language acquisition and years of grappling with Tym Pięknym Językiem. I also know something about teaching, which I have been doing off-and-on since the year 2000. A three year stint under the Ignatian Pedagogical Method taught me some great teaching tricks, including repetition and getting students to really “ENGAGE” with the material. All that stuff about marking your “consolations” and “desolations” in the margins of photocopies and writing “questions for reflection” turn out to be key to memory work.
“Revel in your chagrin,” I yell at my students when they perceive their errors. “Feel the pain of your errors! Or feel the joy of your successes! Joy or pain! Whichever! Feel it!”
I am all about pedagogical method. When my first Attic Greek pupils were sent away to be educated by a proper teaching order on the Continent, I asked them to discern the sisters’ pedagogical method. They’re still not sure what it is, but I hope it has lots of sneakily useful teaching tricks. Meanwhile, I have been engaged to continue teaching them Ancient Greek by correspondence as the girls their age are already reading Homer, Herodotus and the gang. Fortunately, we have a brilliant textbook.
My first and favourite Greek teaching trick is to make pupils cut out, bake and eat the Greek Alphabet. Subsequent testing has led me to believe that this step should never be skipped. Apparently Jews taught their children the Hebrew alphabet with cookies for centuries, and it makes complete sense. Children love cookies, so their love for cookies becomes linked to the alphabet being consumed. If the children are made to cut out the stencils and then the dough themselves, this engages their eyes, ears and hands. In fact, since they eventually bake and eat the alphabet cookies, all their senses work together.
My most recent Greek teaching trick was to make up Leitner boxes for my senior students. A Leitner Box is a classic Spaced Repetition System. In short, one has vocabulary cards which one reviews according to a fixed schedule, moving them closer to the back of the box as one’s memory for them strengthens. As per the instructions in Fluent Forever, I left the backs of the cards blank so that my students could draw pictures or symbols denoting the Greek word (or word pair) on the front. English is not allowed.
The amusing thing about my Leitner Boxes is that the actual boxes are made from cardboard Union Coffee coffee bag supports, and as my favourite brew has this vigorous name, my students are returning to their consecrated preceptress from their Jesuit-trained, Easter-holidays tutor with boxes marked Liberacion. No pun was intended, and I rather wish I preferred “Bobolink”, whose name is surely more in keeping with Traditional Catholicism, homeschooling and convent schools. But there it is.